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Articles / Applying to College / Social Media Impact on Admissions

Social Media Impact on Admissions

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Feb. 14, 2017

One of the hotter admissions-related topics the past year or two has been how your social media “presence” can affect your admission chances. It’s now common knowledge that admissions officers routinely take some time to visit the social media pages of applicants to get a vibe for who that young woman or man is.

I’ve written about this before. My posts here have fallen under one general umbrella: Your social media profile can’t help you, but it can certainly hurt you. For example, a couple years ago, I noted this:

When it comes to surveying your chances for admission to college, how much attention have you paid to your social media “profile”? What do I mean by “profile”? Well, think about everything that you have put out there on the Web that has your identity attached to it. What kinds of pictures represent you on Facebook? What kinds of things have you said on Twitter? How about Google+, Friendster, LinkedIn, etc.?

If you want to see just how many social media platforms there are, take a look at the Top 52 Social Media Platforms Every Marketer Should Know. The amazing part of that page’s title is “Top 52,” which implies that there are more than 52! Also, it refers to “Every Marketer.” As a college applicant, you are a marketer too. You are marketing your profile to admissions committees.


Over the years in writing my blog posts here, I have often referred to what I call “student profile marketing.” What that means is that you are a “product” of sorts. You are (hopefully) presenting the very best aspects of yourself to the “buyer” (the colleges) so that they will consider you to be someone whom they want to acquire. Obviously, this process is not as stringently objective as buying a particular kind of cold medicine at the drugstore, but the essential principle is the same. …

… As I mentioned in a previous post about this topic:

“You may want to take a close look at your college applications: your major essay(s), your short responses, and any  ‘Additional Information’ comments you’ve made. How do you think your readers in admissions would see you? Do you come off as confident, original, unorthodox, or an arrogant smarty pants? My theory is that if you clearly stand out from the mountain of other applicants in a certain way, your admissions readers may take a quick detour to your Facebook page to try to confirm any first-blush reactions they have about you.

“So, then, what will they see when they get there? What’s on your wall? What kind of impression do those posts and pictures convey about you? Have you made any astounding philosophical revelations? Espoused any strongly political leanings? Maybe you love the Occupy Wall Streeters. Maybe you’re a big Herman Cain fan. Maybe you couldn’t care less about what’s going on in the world. What kinds of people and friends hang out with you on Facebook?

“My theory also includes a caution: Beware promoting one type of personality in your college applications and a completely different one on Facebook. Don’t be a two-faced Facebooker. If you try to come off as being an intellectual in your college applications and then have Homer Simpson-like statements and images on your Facebook page . . . well, I don’t have to explain the consequences of that. Likewise, if you claim to belong to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and there are pictures of you chugging a yard of beer, well, again . . .”

So, forewarned is forearmed, right? Well, not so fast there.


Just like when we have been told that certain foods can cause disease, only to read in a future article that that same food is essential for good health, such is the situation now with the “threat” of social media and college admissions. Behold this headline:

Surprise! Social media can help, not hurt, your college prospects

Ha! What’s up with that?!

Let’s explorer this CNN revelation …

With the explosion of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and all the others, there have been plenty of stories about how a student’s social media could hurt their chances of getting into the school of their choice — enough accounts to worry teenagers that what they post could come back to haunt them at college time.

But what teens — and their parents — might not be aware of is how often college admissions officers say social media positively impacts a prospective student’s application, as opposed to reducing their chances of admission.

Thirty-five percent of the 365 college admissions officers who participated in a telephone survey by the educational services company Kaplan Test Prep said they check social media during the admissions process. That number is down from 40% last year but dramatically up from 10% in 2008, when Kaplan started asking the question about social media as part of its annual survey.

Of those who said they look at a student’s social media networks, a larger number said the review benefited the applicant: Forty-seven percent said what they found had a positive impact on prospective students versus 42% who said what they discovered had a negative impact. …


As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”

Russell Schaffer at Kaplan Test Prep keeps me I informed of issues like this. In his latest message to me, he shared the results of their annual college admissions officers survey. He wrote, in part:

“What exactly are the kinds of things admissions officers say they have found that positively impacted applicants’ admissions chances? It ranged from community building to winning awards:

“One admissions officer said, ‘One student described on Twitter that she facilitated an LGBTQ panel for her school, which wasn’t in her application. This made us more interested in her overall and encouraged us to imagine how she would help out the community.’

“Another admissions officer shared, ‘There’s such a negative stereotype of social media that people often forget about the positive effects of it. One student had won an award and had a picture with their principal on their personal page, and it was nice to see.’

“’One young lady started a company with her mom, so it was cool to visit their website,’ added another admissions officer.”

These types of comments harken back to my ongoing mantra about the concept of what I call “profile marketing” (emphasis on marketing). You should view your social media platforms as a base for promoting the most positive aspects of your life, rather than using it for bold proclamations about controversial topics. Schaffer notes from the survey findings:

“Some of the things college admissions officers found that negatively impacted applicants’ admissions chances ranged from bigotry to illegal activity.

‘We found a student’s Twitter account with some really questionable language. It wasn’t quite racist, but it showed a cluelessness that you’d expect of a privileged student who hadn’t seen much of the world. It really ran counter to the rest of her application,’ said one admissions officer.

“A young man who had been involved in a felony did not disclose his past, which is part of our admissions process. His social media page shared his whole story. If he had been forthcoming, we would not have rescinded his acceptance offer, but we had to.’


“One admissions officer said that pictures of a student ‘brandishing weapons” gave him pause when deciding whether to admit the applicant.”

So, as with many issues in life, social media can be a good news-bad news situation. The point of this post, however, is to let you know that your media profile can actually be good news for you.

Going back to that CNN story headline for a moment — Surprise! Social media can help, not hurt, your college prospects — you may be saying, “Well, what about that admissions officer who said that they rescinded that felonious applicant’s acceptance?” Yes. in this case, the fact that the applicant purposely hid the fact that he had been charged with a felony deserved to be rescinded. Application procedures can address felonious actions, and apparently, this applicant chose to skip that part of the application, or perhaps he lied about it.

Consider on balance, though, the admissions officer who said that he saw the applicant “brandishing weapons.” Maybe the the applicant was a hunter and had posed with a deer rifle or even a bow and arrow. What was the context? What were/are the officer’s attitudes about guns? In any event, the officer did not say that the applicant’s application was denied, merely given “pause.”

The message here seems to be that regardless of all the media hoopla about the dangers of social media as they apply to college admissions, the actual situation appears to be that the odds favor your media profile doing more good for you than bad. So, my advice is to regard anything you post on the Internet by way of social media as a gigantic billboard that can be read by potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of others driving by your pages.

Bottom line: Be sensible, not reckless.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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